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270                                                                                                             B. POLEVOI
"Well ... if that's the case ... then, of course___Show
me your feet!... Humph!"
Alexei was discharged from the training school with a
first-class certificate. That irate lieutenant-colonel, that old
"air wolf", was able to appreciate his great accomplish-
ment more than anybody else, and was not stinting in
words of admiration. He certified that Meresyev was "a
skilful, experienced and strong-willed airman, fit for any
branch of the air service".
Meresyev spent the rest of the winter and the early
part of the spring at an improvement school. It was an
old-established army aviation school, which had an ex-
cellent airfield, fine living quarters and a magnificent
club-house with a theatre where performances were some-
times given by Moscow theatrical companies. This school
too was crowded, but the pre-war regulations were reli-
giously adhered to, and the trainees were obliged to be
careful even about minor details of dress, because, if boots
were not polished, if a button was missing on a coat, or
if a map case had been hurriedly put on over the belt,
the offender had to do two hours' drill by order of the
A large group of airmen, to which Alexei Meresyev
belonged, was training to fly a new type of Soviet fighter
plane, the "La-5". The training was thorough and in-
cluded a study of the engines and other parts of the plane.
At the lectures, Alexei was amazed to learn the progress
Soviet aviation had made in the short period that he had
been absent from the army. What had seemed a bold
innovation at the beginning of the war was now hopelessly
out of date. The swift "Swallows" and light, high flying
"Migs" that were regarded as masterpieces at the begin-
ning of the war, were being decommissioned and replaced
by newly-designed machines which the Soviet aircraft
factories had put into mass production in a fabulously
short time: magnificent "Yaks" of the latest models,
"La-5's" which had come into fashion, and two-seater "Us"
—flying tanks which almost shaved the ground and rained
on the heads of the enemy bombs, bullets and shells, and